Heart of Our City: From Vietnam to the North Coast

Pam Pham is this week's Heart of Our City in Prince Rupert. At 21 years, she moved to Vancouver as a refugee from Vietnam.

Pam Pham came to Canada from Vietnam as a refugee after spending three months on a boat and six months in two refugee camps. In Prince Rupert

By Devyn Ens

Stationed behind the counter at the BC Annual Dance Competition canteen, in the Lester Centre of the Arts is hairdresser and business owner Pam Pham. She greets everyone with a smile and chats with the other volunteers and parents of the competitors.

She was hard at work on Thursday, keeping the canteen organized while preparing food. The other volunteers coming over to the counter chatted with her while she moved around the workspace, pulling items out and tucking them away.

With a full week of performances and people coming from communities near and far, there always seems to be a steady stream of people waiting for her help, making it tricky for her to find a quick minute to sit down and talk.

When she finally found a moment, she was excited to speak about the arts and culture in the city. She punctuates her thoughts with a soft laugh, mildly downplaying the important role she’s had in the community since she moved to the North Coast 22 years ago.

Pam moved to Canada from Vietnam when she was 21 as a refugee.

She spent three months on a boat, and six months in two refugee camps, learning English from television shows.

She eventually moved to Vancouver and worked tirelessly.

When she put herself through hairdressing school she met Paul Cox, who is now well-known in the Rupert community as the drummer in Triple Bypass. When Cox found a job in Prince Rupert, Pam moved up to the North Coast with him. She said she doesn’t see herself moving away from the area.

“Sometimes it rains a little bit, when it’s nice out it’s a beautiful place, there’s no place like this.”

Pam opened up her own hairdressing salon when she moved to the city. In her thirties, she took her yoga teacher training and taught yoga and fitness classes as well.

The busy mom raised three kids and began volunteering with the dance competition when Linda, her oldest, started competing when she was seven-years-old. Her youngest daughter Hailey now competes.

“I like to see and talk to people,” she explained.

“I enjoy watching (the dancing,) and I like to see the kids come out in their makeup and costumes. It kind of makes my day.”

Pam enjoys the arts community in Prince Rupert, and thinks that there is a high caliber of talent and skill in the community.

“It’s huge here. There’s so much talent, in this little town.”

Pam owns Hairtek Studio on Cow Bay Road, and she said that the only challenging part about volunteering for the dance competition is finding the time between that and her studio.

“That’s the hard thing, when you own your own business, being away from it is really a little bit harder.”

However, she said she always makes time for it.

“I love doing it. I look forward to my shift. I like to volunteer and put my work in and watch the performances.”

She said that Prince Rupert is fortunate to have spaces like the Lester Centre of the Arts.

“We’re very lucky to have the theatres that we have. There’s a lot of art going on in this town.”

When Pam isn’t working, or volunteering, she is cooking delicious South Asian cuisine for her family and friends.